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Father, cousin testify in murder trial of parents accused of killing 15-day-old daughter

Cortney Bell's family members testified in the first day of the trial against her and Christopher McNabb

COVINGTON, Ga. — This story was published in May 2019. The trial has now concluded. Here is a playlist of the entire trial: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLxSDPGC2EVp8NdSXowmsA1MebrZ-TO2CQ


Tim Bell told the court on Tuesday that he took his grandchildren in the days leading up to Caliyah McNabb's death out of concern for their welfare.

Megan Sorrels, who often looked after Cortney Bell's children, worried about the "chaos" in the home.

A Newton County jury heard this opening testimony Tuesday morning in a trial against Cortney Bell and Christopher McNabb, two parents accused of killing and covering up the murder of their two-week-old baby.

The body of little Caliyah McNabb was found in October 2017 in a wooded area not far from her parents' home near Covington.

RELATED: Daddys' girl | How tumultuous past leads to heartbreaking ending

Christopher McNabb and Cortney Bell are facing multiple charges, including murder, in connection with the crime.

The pair are accused of killing their 15-day-old infant daughter, then dumping her body in the woods not far from the Eagle Point Trailer Park.

Bell's father Tim Bell testified first, in one instance saying McNabb looked "shady" when he showed up from searching around the woods the day Caliyah went missing and indicated he felt the father used his children to get money.

"He was always behind the scene, you could always hear him in the background, when you talk to Cortney on the phone he's always in the background, 'We need this, we need that'," Bell testified.

RELATED: Her 2-week-old body was found in the woods near her home. Her parents are charged with murder.

Caliyah's grandfather also testified how he took the kids home with him from another family member's home days before she went missing because he was concerned about their well-being.

He made his daughter Cortney clean up her trailer home and returned the kids the day before Caliyah's disappearance.

The next day Cortney Bell called the police to report the infant girl missing. One day later, authorities searching for the newborn found her lifeless body wrapped inside a blue cloth and hidden under a log.

Bell's cousin Megan Sorrels also testified, explaining how she often cared for Bell's children in addition to her own four kids.

Sorrels said she became overwhelmed watching Bell's 2-year-old daughter Clarissa and newborn Caliyah days before Caliyah's disappearance and called her mother to vent.

This phone call led her mother to calling Tim Bell, Sorrels' uncle, and to him taking the kids for a couple of days. In an emotional moment, Sorrels said she believed her phone call might have set off the events that led to Caliyah's death days later.

"I felt like it stirred up everything, I've blamed myself the whole time," Sorrels said. "Maybe if I would've just dealt with it a different way or, I don't know, I just feel like I made that phone call that day to my mom and when she called her brother everything got out of control. And I blame myself the whole time."

Sorrels said she had been concerned about the children's safety when Bell and McNabb would fight or do drugs at home.

"She always had bruises on her," Sorrels said. "I've went through abuse myself, so I didn't really have to ask many questions. I could tell."

In opening statements, Newton County prosecutors had told jurors they would hear that McNabb and Bell were negligent parents who created an unhealthy home for Caliyah and their daughter Clarissa, smoking meth and bringing drug-addicted friends into the house.

"We're not going to sugar coat anything for you, we're going to show you exactly how this baby was living," Newton County Assistant District Attorney Alex Stone said.

Stone said the jury would hear conflicting accounts from McNabb and Bell, that their story and their timeline of events wouldn't add up.

Defense attorneys countered that the state wouldn't be able to meet the burden of proving McNabb and Bell were responsible for Caliyah's death beyond a reasonable doubt.

McNabb's attorney Anthony Carter painted his client as a vulnerable father who was targeted by police simply because he was the easiest option.

"They focused like a laser on Christopher McNabb as being the person who killed his daughter," Carter said.

He said police "developed their whole case around supposition, the hypothesis that McNabb is one who killed his daughter."

"You know why they did that. Look at his looks, his physical altercations with Cortney, the fact they did drugs. Of course, they looked at him," Carter said.

But he likened that focus to a pack of lions going after a gazelle.

"When a pack of lions go after a herd of gazelle, they don't go after the smartest gazelle, the fastest gazelle, they go after the gazelle that's vulnerable, that's hurt, that's not as smart," he said. "And that's what police did in this case

"They went after the people who were most vulnerable - in this case, people who had just lost their two-week-old daughter," Carter added.

Bell's attorney, Bryan Frost, said there was no evidence against his client.

"What I don't believe you're going to hear at all is any evidence whatsoever, direct or indirect, that my client had anything to do with this heinous crime against her daughter at all," he said.

The jury then heard the 911 call Bell made the day their daughter went missing, and McNabb wiped away tears.

A Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner determined that the infant had died from blunt force trauma to the head.  

McNabb was charged in October 2017 with felony murder, aggravated battery and concealing a death.

In January 2018, Bell was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, second-degree cruelty to children and contributing to the deprivation of a minor

Other crime stories:

Sophie's Nightmare: How a Georgia mother allowed her boyfriend to impregnate her 10-year-old

Gang members sentenced in 'the most horrific death' in recent county history

He said he'd kill her if she left him. He did. She was pregnant.

Police: He took a cupcake. They beat him to death with a baseball bat. 

 A body, a burning truck and the Ghostface Gangsters: 4 convicted in Mableton murder

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